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Mystery coffin found in lost Roman temple could belong to Romulus

Harry Pettit, February 19, 2020 7:00PM The Sun

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The stone coffin thought to have belonged to Romulus. Picture: @ParcoColosseo media_cameraThe stone coffin thought to have belonged to Romulus. Picture: @ParcoColosseo


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Archaeologists* believe they have found the long lost tomb of Romulus, thought to be the founder of Rome.

A rock sarcophagus* unearthed in the Italian capital could have once held the remains of the city’s first king after his death in the 6th century BC.

The 1.37m-long coffin was found in an area dedicated to Romulus within a hidden underground temple at the Roman Forum.

The Forum, a rectangular plaza* in the heart of Rome, was once a huge marketplace surrounded by ancient government buildings.

“This is an extraordinary discovery. The forum never ceases to yield amazing fresh treasures,” Alfonsina Russo, director of the Colosseum Archaeological Park, told The Times.

Roman Forum. media_cameraRoman Forum, Rome, Italy. Picture: iStock

According to legend, Romulus founded Rome in 735BC after murdering his twin brother Remus in a fight over where the city should be built.

The story goes that the siblings were born to a princess named Rhea Silvia and that their father was the fierce Roman god of war, Mars.

In Roman mythology, Romulus and twin brother Remus were left to die as babies in a basket on the River Tiber.

They survived and were taken in by a she-wolf*, who nursed them back to health.

A coin showing Romulus and Remus media_cameraA marble carving from the 1400s depicting Romulus and Remus. Picture: Carlo Brogi

Of course, the story is legend, and it’s not clear whether Romulus or Remus ever existed.

Some archaeologists believe Rome arose when several settlements on the Plains of Latium* joined in order to better defend against attack.

Those who believe Romulus founded Rome also regard him as the founder of Roman politics and society, paving the way for the Roman Empire, which conquered vast* areas of Europe, West Asia and North Africa between 27BC and 476AD.

Men dressed as ancient Roman centurions parade along the Fori Imperiali avenue, in front of ancient Colosseum on the occasion of the celebrations of the birth of the city of Rome, Sunday, April 22, 2012. Legend has it that Rome was founded on April 21, 753 B.C. by Romulus and his brother Remus, the twin sons of the god of war Mars, who were suckled as infants by a she-wolf in the woods. Known as the Christmas of Rome, each year Romans celebrate the pagan festivity, which has become a major tourist attraction, by dressing up in ancient Roman clothes and parading through the streets surrounding the eternal city's ancient ruins. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino) media_cameraMen dressed as ancient Roman centurions parade in front of the Colosseum to celebrate the birth of the city of Rome on April 21, 753BC by Romulus and his brother Remus, the twin sons of the god of war Mars, who were suckled as infants by a she-wolf in the woods, according to legend. Romans celebrate the date each year. Picture: AP

The underground temple where the tomb thought to belong to Romulus is located is below the entrance stairway to Curia.

The building still stands today and was where Roman senators* once met to vote.

According to Ms Russo, scholars think the temple’s altar* was positioned where Romans believed Romulus to be buried.

The coffin did not contain any remains, meaning the archaeologists’ claims are impossible to verify*.

The finding was made near the Lapis Niger, an ancient black shrine in the Roman Forum, according to Andreas Steiner, editor of the Italian magazine Archeo.

Discovered in 1899, the shrine features a Greek inscription* referring to sacred ground nearby that should not be disturbed.

This story was first published in The Sun and is republished here with permission.

LIBRARY: The Lupercalia cave, a structure rebuilt at Palatine hill during the reign of Roman emperor Augustus to commemorate the place where due to legend a she-wolf nursed Romulus and Remus, is shown in a handout photo during an archeological study of the area in Rome released November 20, 2007. REUTERS/Italian Culture Ministry/Handout (ITALY). EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. media_cameraThe Lupercalia cave, a structure rebuilt in Rome during the reign of Roman emperor Augustus to commemorate the place where legend says a she-wolf looked after Romulus and Remus. Picture: Reuters


  • archaeologists: experts who study old things made by humans
  • sarcophagus: stone coffin from ancient Rome, Greece or Egypt
  • plaza: a public square or marketplace
  • she-wolf: a female wolf
  • Plains of Latium: fertile homelands of Latin-speaking people
  • vast: over a big area
  • senators: politicians
  • altar: table for religious ceremonies
  • verify: confirm something is correct
  • inscription: words or a message, usually carved into a surface


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  1. When was Romulus thought to have founded Rome?
  2. Who was Remus?
  3. When was the Roman Empire powerful and where?
  4. Where is the underground temple?
  5. Can we know for sure the coffin belonged to Romulus? Why or why not?


1. Visualise the Roman Forum
Draw a picture to help you visualise the Roman Forum. Based on information in the article, sketch a birds-eye-view plan of what you think the Forum might look like. Include as many details as you can and label them.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity 
Curriculum Links: English

2. Extension
Create a timeline of Romulus’s life, including all events mentioned in the article in chronological order.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity 
Curriculum Links: English, HIstory

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many pieces of punctuation as you can find in green. Discuss how these are being used, where and how often. What level of the punctuation pyramid is the journalist using in this article?

HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you think the coffin belonged to Romulus?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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